The Significance of Women's Subjective Experience
When Mrs. Hale says to Mrs. Peters, "We all go through the same things—it's all just a different kind of the same thing! If it weren't—why do you and I understand? Why do we know—what we know this minute?" she was talking about a shared female subjectivity.
A good way to understand subjectivity is to imagine that all people are subjects. As subjects of their particular environments, their identities are constructed by the times, geography, gender, age. and any number of things that make them who they are. People's actions, thoughts, and feelings are informed by all these circumstances. This individual perspective is the person's subjectivity. This subjectivity is the root of an individual's episte-mology, or the way they know what they know.
Objectivity would be the opposite of this. An objective perspective or way of thinking relies on a person's ability to put aside his or her own subjective experience and view a situation from a standard or formulaic point of view. This point of view is removed from what the person thinks for him or herself and is based on a general set of assumptions.
People share a certain subjective viewpoint if they have enough common experiences. Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and Minnie Wright all share a certain female subjectivity as wives of farmers. They live in the same town and have very similar lives, therefore knowing themselves is similar to knowing one another. It is this shared understanding of their lives that allows Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to reconstruct a picture of what Minnie's life migh! have been like. It is a lack of this subjective approach that keeps their husbands unaware of the circumstances of the crime. The men's objective approach to the crime is informed not by their own ideas of what might have happened, but by a set of assumptions of what most people agree constitutes a crime.
While looking for a certain set of clues like forced entry, a murder weapon, and signs of intruders around the barn, they are not open to other interpretations of the crime, interpretations that perhaps only a woman who shared Minnie's experiences might see. When the men disregard the women's attention to the kitchen, they are favoring an objective approach. Upon briefly surveying the kitchen, the sheriff decides to move the investigation upstairs. His cynical assessment of the scene is, "Nothing here but kitchen things."—"Nothing," as the county attorney suggests ''that would point to any motive." In fact, the men openly doubt the women's ability to read a crime with their subjective experience. The assumption that the women are prone to do so places them under suspicion of being blinded by this subjectivity and thus unable to come up with any useful information. Mr. Hale sums up this theory by asking,''But would the women know a clue if they did come upon it?''
Female subjectivity is crucial in comprehending the story because it is the only way in which readers come to have a sense of who Minnie is. It is through the shared experiences of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters that the reader comes to understand what Minnie's life might have been like. Only when the women synthesize their observations at the crime scene with what they know about their own lives as rural housewives do they achieve a shared concept of married rural womanhood. This shared sense of identity is the basis for their shared subjectivity.
Minnie does not have to tell them that she was lonely or unhappy. They use memories of their own experiences to sympathize with her isolation and to defend her against the accusations of the law. To Sheriff Peters's attempt to sway Mrs. Hale's loyalty to her sex,''Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?" Mrs. Hale reminds him that it takes two to dirty a house and only one is expected to clean it: "Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be." The dual meaning of the phrase "clean hands" implies thathusbands are not always as free from guilt as they could be. As housewives, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters know this to be true. Perhaps their own homes have been dirtied by similarly careless hands. Mrs. Hale also understands the anxiety of housework interrupted, "Things begun—and not finished." The question of what might have interrupted Minnie's work comes to Mrs. Hale's mind after placing herself in Minnie's shoes. A housewife would not leave her work undone if not for some disturbance. This insight points Mrs. Hale in the direction of a motive.
Critic Linda Ben-Zvi notes that the author conveys the constricting sense of a woman's isolation with the symbolism of the exploded preserves jars. A summer's worth of canning suddenly destroyed represents a form of outburst; it is a suggestion that something may have erupted. Ben-Zvi reads the cracked jars as a symbol for a break in Minnie's composure. That "preserves explode from lack of heat'' is an indicator that any violent...
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